Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Reluctant Billionaire- biography of Dilip Shanghvi

Dilip Shanghvi is a self-made entreprenuer whose company Sun has become the largest Indian pharmaceutical firm and one of the largest in the world. Pharma is not an easy field like IT in which one can become a billionaire overnight. Shanghvi started off as a distributor of psychiatric medicines in Kolkatta and went into manufacturing in Gujarat. He scaled up the business over the decades both organically and through acquisitions. He became rich without the use of crony capitalism route or other short-cuts. 

The book brings out Shanghvi’s people skills as an important ingredient of his success. He gave the utmost importance to Medical Representatives and doctors and earned their loyalty to build his prescription-driven business. He himself had sat in the waiting room of many doctors. He is still a hands-on owner promoter who takes decisions after going into details himself.

In the beginning of his ventures, he had put his boyhood friends and relatives in the business. These friends and relatives worked hard with commitment and helped him succeed. Even now Shanghvi goes on vacations with his childhood friends.

Shanghvi is an avid reader. He read not only lot of books on management but also medical journals from which he had acquired knowledge with which he provoked and questioned R and D scientists. He listened to and watched professional managers in action and learnt from them. 

After having started and built Sun Pharma in India with his Gujarati DNA, Shanghvi went global. He acquired the Israeli firm Taro which was doing generics business in US. The Gujarati was up against the formidable and wily Jewish entrepreneur Barrie Levitt who had built Taro in the same way as Shanghvi had created Sun. After having agreed to sell his firm to Sun, Levitt started playing games and dragged the case to an Israeli court. He did a media campaign saying that an Indian was challenging Jewish pride by the acquisition and made it as a case of Israeli honour. Even the Israeli lawyer of Sun doubted the strength of Shanghvi’s case. But Shanghvi changed the lawyer and fought the case and won. After the take over of the company he was gracious enough to give a grand farewell dinner to Levitt with the presence of the senior executives of Taro.

After having won the Jewish war, Shanghvi went in for a Punjabi conquest with the acquisition of Ranbaxy. The executives of Ranbaxy looked down on Sun’s frugal Gujarati culture. At one time, Ranbaxy itself had considered buying up Sun. The haughty and flashy Ranbaxy executives gave a hard time even after Sun acquired their firm. But Shanghvi stood firm and merged Ranbaxy into Sun. One of the first things he did was to get a consultant to analyse and present the cultural differences of the two companies to the senior executives of both the firms. He threw out many Ranbaxy executives whose style and culture did not conform to the frugal and cost conscious Sun business culture.

Soma Das, the author of the book has made the biography of Shanghvi interesting by focusing on the larger issues of his business and personality. But the author is a bit carried away with admiration and has highlighted only the positive aspects of Shanghvi. 

 Shanghvi became the richest Indian briefly in 2015 with net worth of 21 billion dollars overtaking Mukesh Ambani. But since then stocks of Sun have come down and his networth has crashed to 8 billion dollars. Sun’s reputation has come under a slight cloud after reports of a whistle blower’s allegations of governance lapses.

Unlike the flamboyant Ambanis and many other tycoons, Shanghvi keeps a low profile and is publicity-shy. He lives a modest and austere lifestyle as a vegetarian. But Shanghvi is yet to display corporate social responsibility like Azim Premji and other benevolent rich Indians.

Pharmaceuticals is a sector in which India outshines China and has established its reputation in the world as a whole. India’s export of pharmaceuticals in 2018 were  18 billion dollars as against China’s 9 billion. Over one quarter of India’s exports go to USA and more than half goes to the developed regulated markets. While China imports 28 billion dollars of pharmaceueticals India’s imports are just 2 billion dollars. At last even China has recognized the competitiveness and quality of Indian generics and has just opened its market for imports from India.

India needs more Shanghvis to produce affordable generic medicines for the masses of India and the world. Shanghvi is an inspiration for Indian entrepreneurs.

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